Oregons budget produces teacher poaching

Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2003

PORTLAND, Ore. Over at booth 725, Dallas-area schools recruiter Mark Speck was working the crowd of would-be teachers with the practiced finesse of a car salesman slapping backs, handing out souvenir watches and talking up life in a region that will need 8,000 new teachers next year.

Across the cavernous Oregon Convention Center, David Karell, a schools superintendent from California, was dangling potential signing bonuses of up to $7,000 in front of Oregon teachers, many of whom have given up hope of finding or keeping a job in their home state.

A series of state budget cutbacks has forced Oregon's schools to lay off teachers and cut the school year short. With next year looking no better, the teachers have become some of the nation's hottest targets for school recruiters trying to keep up with rapid population growth.

We go where they are laying off teachers, wherever we think there's an opportunity,'' said Speck, whose team is also planning trips to Washington state, Colorado, Minnesota and Nashville, Tenn.

In the past, teacher poaching has been most common among neighboring states, especially when one is relatively poor and the other has fast-growing urban centers. In cash-poor Louisiana, for instance, teachers drive to work past a billboard that advertises jobs in nearby Houston with the slogan: Starting salaries up to 40k, a state away.''

Certain states have reputations as particularly voracious recruiters. Florida, for example, has launched an aggressive marketing campaign to recruit 25,000 new teachers by next fall.

In Alabama, where school funding has been dropping along with the collection of sales and income taxes, new educators are being wooed by Texas, Georgia and Florida.

But I would not be surprised at all to learn we are getting recruiters from the Midwest and the East,'' said Paul Hubbert, executive director of the Alabama Education Association.

Oregon's intense education woes, lampooned in Doonesbury and chronicled in newspapers across the country, have attracted recruiters from as far away as Pennsylvania, plus larger numbers than usual from California, Nevada and Arizona.

At the recent Oregon Professional Educator's Fair in Portland, the recruiters came bearing logo-embossed key chains and refrigerator magnets. Mary Beth Chambless of San Jose, Calif., assured candidates her school was in the very prettiest part of California,'' while Los Angeles touted a minimum starting salary of $41,177 for qualified teachers.

Especially long lines stretched from the Clark County, Nev., booth. The Las Vegas-area district is the country's sixth largest and gaining, with plans to open four elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools next year in what recruiter Sheri Davies called an off year for construction.'' The district needs 1,100 new teachers; Davies' interview slots were booked by noon.

Oregon school officials depend on state government for 70 percent of their funding, and they are in trouble because tax revenues are dropping. In January, voters rejected a plan to boost the income tax for the next three years.

Many of the 3,000 educators at the fair a mix of new graduates and seasoned teachers said they can't wait for things to improve.

Tere Knight, who has taught special education at a Lincoln City high school for several years, said she was gunning for a new job in either Las Vegas or Salinas, Calif.

If I honestly thought the funding in Oregon would change I would stay,'' she said. But we have seen such significant losses as educators, and it's very difficult to go backward I don't feel I have had a choice.''

Recruiters for Beaverton schools told the long lines of mostly recent graduates hoping to stay close to home that they wouldn't know whether they'd have the money to hire anyone until June at the latest.

Nearby, Madras advertised a single job, for a high school principal, and Forest Grove simply posted a sign informing candidates that no district jobs were presently available.

Even districts from rural Oregon, traditionally heavy recruiters because of high turnover and retirement rates, scaled back their efforts.

Richard McIlmoil, a prospective art teacher hoping to find a job in the small college town of La Grande, said the last he'd heard, the district was facing an additional $2.3 million in budget cuts, and bracing for possible layoffs and bigger class sizes.

I'd have liked to stay out there, but it's looking real bleak,'' McIlmoil said.



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